July 23, 2012
When fishing in and around shallow rocky spawning areas in spring--and in fact anytime walleyes are foraging in 1 to 5 feet of water--subtlety and snag resistance often rise to the forefront. A clunky plunk plunging through the still surface can spook a walleye during calm conditions, although the same sound likely will be lost amidst the rush and turbulence of wind and waves. In wind, you can get away with excessive noise; sometimes, it even helps attract fish to a lure's point of entry. But when the fish are up in skinny water and the surface is mirror-still, you need to sneak your offering down into their lair without alerting them to your presence, or they'll flee from the sudden threat from above.
Basically, it's time to flip out. Actually, the correct term is pitchin'. Flippin' more correctly refers to a bassin' technique incorporating long rods, heavy line, and an underhand swing of the rod to propel a heavy jig parallel to the surface. Once the jig reaches its target, you use your free hand to grip the line, instantly stopping the jig's forward movement, causing it to silently descend straight down from a height only a few inches above the surface. The result is a silent entry, adept at not spooking fish, although it may alert them to come over and take a peek at the subtle disturbance. Maximum flippin' distance is about 20 feet from the boat and is best applied in darker water where fish can be approached without spooking them.
Pitchin', be it for bass or walleyes, basically is a longer-distance underhanded flip. The biggest difference is that you don't grip the line to stop the forward motion of the lure. Instead, you simply need to be on target. Pitchin' covers a longer distance, up to around 40 feet, and is easily applied in clearer water where you must remain some distance from your shallow target in order to avoid spooking fish.
While bassers pitch with casting tackle, stout line, and heavy jigs, walleye anglers incorporate a more refined, light-line approach. Six- to 6 1/2-foot spinning rods, 6- to 8-pound mono, and lightweight 1/32- to 1/8-ounce jigs tipped with livebait, small plastic tails, or both, are standard fare. Due to its small size and minuscule weight, the package lands on target with barely a ripple, then descends in a slow, natural fashion--perfect for wily shallow walleyes.
The trick with pitchin' is to stand and face your target, grab the line with your forefinger, open the bail, and then point the rod tip slightly downward over the gunwale, with the rod nearly parallel to the water. Since walleye boats often lack the back casting deck of bass boats, the angler in the rear is positioned down inside rather than virtually atop the boat. This necessitates a not-too-long rod to facilitate the pitch; a longer rod becomes unwieldy and counterproductive, since the rod tip would strike the surface.
To begin the pitch (assuming you're right-handed), swing the rod tip a couple feet down and to your left, then stop it, to load the rod. Ideally, the lure should now be just a few inches above the surface. Next, swing the rod slightly up and to the right, pointing the rod tip toward your target. At the moment of truth when the rod tip unloads and begins to propel the lure forward, release the line with your forefinger. Properly executed, the lure should sail toward its target.
Pitchin' isn't difficult, but practice is required to enhance subtlety. Like flippin', a pitched lure should sail on a relatively flat trajectory just a few feet above the surface before reentering the water with a subtle swish. An all-star pitcher often uses his rod-hand forefinger to feather the line at the end of the cast to slow the lure's forward motion and precisely control the length of the pitch, dropping the lure on a dime. In any case, avoid a high looping lob cast that kerplunks the lure into the water, defeating the purpose of the attempted stealth.
As the lure slips beneath the surface, begin following it down with the rod tip, maintaining a semi-taut tension on the line to help detect strikes, yet without causing the lure to swing back toward you on a tight line. A vertical descent is ideal, be it between visible boulders or the forks of a flooded tree, or simply into a shallow stretch of fishable water.
When the line goes slack, the lure either has reached bottom or a fish has engulfed it. Lift the rod tip slightly, placing tension on the line, to sense weight or movement. If it's alive, set the hook. If not, keep lifting the rod tip until the jig rises off bottom. Then stop, letting the jig swim a few feet toward you. Drop the rod tip while taking up slack. Repeat, all the way back to the boat.
Pitchin' is great in nearly any shallow situation. The light weight of the lure or lure-bait combo is conducive to swimming and skipping across rocky snags, rather than plunging down between them and snagging. When fishing around wood cover, switch to a lightweight weedless jighead to minimize fouling. You don't need heavy line to fish for walleyes in shallow cover--just a stealthy, slippery, slinky tactic. Pitchin's it.
Who needs a fastball, a curveball, or even a slider? Just lay a big fat softball out over the plate and let walleyes take their cut. Forget about a swing and a miss; a good pitch encompasses a swing and a hit.